By Krystal Spring and Ellen Thompson
No one has offered to buy the Heritage Center from the city of Havre, meaning the city may soon be forced to board up the windows and mothball the building, Havre Mayor Bob Rice said Monday.
Rice said the city has enough money in its Heritage Center fund to keep the building open for one more month. He told the City Council at its meeting Monday night that the building's boiler is now operating four hours a day at $23 per hour, which is quickly draining the center's fund.
The city took over management of the Heritage Center on July 1, after the H. Earl Clack Foundation - which had leased the building since 1996 - relinquished management, saying it couldn't afford to continue to do so. The city purchased the former post office and federal courthouse in 1996 from the U.S. Postal Service with $89,600 in federal highway funds.
The city on Sept. 17 received the green light from the Montana Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration to move forward with its plans to sell the building. The building was advertised for sale in newspapers across the state, but Rice said the city received no bids for the center. He said four interested buyers, including one party from Whitefish, toured the building, but no bids were made.
The City Council voted 7-1 Monday to open the bidding process on the center for a second time.
"I'd like to see us rebid that building one more time," City Council member Tom Farnham said.
Rice said he plans to work with state officials, including those from the State Historic Preservation Office, to decide what the city should do with the center if no bids are received the second time around.
"I would hate to see this building boarded up," Rice said, but the city doesn't have the money to keep it open, he added.
The building housed the county's H. Earl Clack Museum and some business offices before the city issued a 30-day eviction notice to tenants on Oct. 4, which initially gave them until today to vacate the building.
Rice said Monday the move-out deadline has been extended for the museum.
"I'd hate to think they'd be rushed to (move out)," Rice said.
The Hill County Commission signed a three-year rental agreement with the Holiday Village Shopping Center on Monday. The museum closed three weeks ago in preparation for the move to the mall.
Museum board chairman Ron VandenBoom said several volunteers will soon begin the extensive move-out process.
"It'll take more than one or two days and it will have to be done in sections," he said. "Logistics is going to be a problem."
VandenBoom said the museum's photo lab, which is housed in the basement of the Heritage Center, will be packaged and moved to a storage unit in the mall. He said the museum's archives will be stored in the basement of the Hill County annex building.
VandenBoom said Clack Museum manager Emily Mayer Lossing, who's also a member of the Havre City Council, turned in a letter of resignation to the museum, effective Nov. 25.
Mayer Lossing could not be reached for comment today.
H. Earl Clack Foundation president Elaine Morse said the foundation is also packing up its belongings from the center, and they'll be moved to a storage place at the mall.
"It will be a matter of figuring out where everything goes," she said.
Morse said the foundation is holding a rummage sale at the Heritage Center on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. She said a number of items, including chairs, desks, air conditioners, office supplies and phones, will be sold. The proceeds from the sale will help support the museum's move, Morse said.